Some Untypical Sentence Patterns

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The sentence patterns we looked at on the previous page represent typical or canonical patterns But you will often come across sentences which do not conform to these patterns. We will look at some of these here.


The Subject is sometimes postponed until the end of the sentence. Here are some examples:

In first place is Red Rum
Inside the house were two detectives
More important is the question of compensation

Here, the typical declarative order has been disrupted for stylistic effect. In these examples, the Subject comes after the verb, and is said to be EXTRAPOSED. Compare them with the more usual pattern:

In first place is Red Rum ~Red Rum is in first place
Inside the house were two detectives ~Two detectives were inside the house
More important is the question of compensation ~The question of compensation is more important

The Subject is also extraposed when the sentence is introduced by anticipatory it:

It is a good idea to book early
It is not surprising that he failed his exams

In the more typical pattern, these constructions may sound stylistically awkward:

To book early is a good idea
That he failed his exams is not surprising

Extraposition is not always just a matter of style. In the following examples, it is obligatory:

It seems that he'll be late again ~*That he'll be late again seems
It turned out that his secretary had stolen the money ~*That his secretary had stolen the money turned out

Direct Objects, too, can be extraposed. Recall that their typical position is after the verb (Pattern 2). However, when anticipatory it is used, the Direct Object is extraposed:

He made it very clear that he would not be coming back

Again, the canonical pattern is stylistically very awkward:

*He made that he would not be coming back very clear

Cleft Sentences

A declarative sentence, such as David studied English at Oxford can be reformulated as:

It was David who studied English at Oxford

This is called a CLEFT SENTENCE because the original sentence has been divided (or "cleft") into two clauses: It was David and who studied English at Oxford. Cleft sentences focus on one constituent of the original sentence, placing it after it was (or it is). Here we have focussed on the Subject David, but we could also focus on the Direct Object English:

It was English that David studied at Oxford

or on the Adjunct at Oxford

It was at Oxford that David studied English

Cleft constructions, then, exhibit the pattern:

It + be + focus + clause

Functions in Phrases...


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